Syria: Peaceful protesters detained in Sweida must be released immediately


The Syrian government must immediately and unconditionally release 11 men who were detained following peaceful protests in the predominantly-Druze city of Sweida, Amnesty International said today.

Anti-government protests began on 7 June, initially due to concerns regarding Syria’s collapsing economy. However, they quickly escalated to include calls for “regime change”, the withdrawal of Russian and Iranian forces from Syria, and the release of detainees.

In the days that followed, a prominent activist who helped organise the protests was arrested by Syrian security forces. He has not been heard from since, and his fate and whereabouts remain unknown.

This latest crackdown goes to show that the government has no intent of changing its brutal and repressive practices nine years on
Lynn Maalouf

Nine more men were then arrested during a peaceful protest on 15 June, and a student was arrested at a checkpoint the following day.

“The Syrian authorities are waging a campaign of intimidation - again involving enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions - to try to stop peaceful protesters from voicing their concerns,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.

“The Syrian government’s brutal response to protests since 2011 has led to years of bloodshed and unfathomable suffering for people in Syria. This latest crackdown goes to show that the government has no intent of changing its brutal and repressive practices nine years on.

“These men have committed no criminal offence, and there is no reason why they should be behind bars. All those arbitrarily detained must be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Crackdown on protesters

On 15 June, anti-government demonstrations in Sweida were confronted by organised pro-government supporters. In clashes that followed, security forces reportedly beat anti-government protesters and nine protesters were detained.

Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps examined and verified open source information which corroborates witness accounts, including the arrest of protesters at around 11am.

The following day, a student was detained at a checkpoint on his way to school, allegedly in connection to the protests. It is to note that he had not even attended the protests.

Residents in Sweida told Amnesty International that the detainees are currently being held at the Sweida Civil Prison. Three men have been told they will be transferred to Sweida Criminal Court for trial. The Syrian government has threatened to transfer the other eight men to the anti-terrorism court in Damascus if the protests continue.

Background

In recent years there have been intermittent and sporadic protests in the city, mainly due by economic hardship. In early 2020, a new campaign, ‘We Want To Live’, has been supporting renewed and regular protests.

The majority of protesters are young men frustrated by the lack of employment opportunities. They are also unable to leave Sweida, where they are protected through an agreement with the government from forced conscription, out of fear of being otherwise forcibly conscripted.